Generally, Ad Limina (Latin for “to the threshold of the Apostles”) visits of bishops to the Vatican happen every five years. For various reasons, the visits got backed up in recent years. It had been eight years since the last Ad Limina. Eight years ago, I was the auxiliary bishop in San Antonio and attended the Ad Limina with Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller. Pope Benedict was in office at the time.
This time, I arrived in Rome on Sunday, January 26, around noontime. Unfortunately, my luggage did not arrive with me. I was told by the airline that my bag would arrive on the evening flight from Munich, through which my itinerary took me, and that they would deliver the bag the next day. I told them that I needed the bag in the evening since I had a very important appointment the next morning.
After early morning Mass at the tomb of St. Peter, the bishops of Region XI (California, Nevada, Hawaii) were to meet with the Holy Father, Pope Francis. While Pope Francis has downplayed certain protocols at the Vatican, it still is general protocol that bishops meet the Holy Father in cassock (the long black robe with magenta trimming). Mine was in my luggage, still in Munich.
Many of you know Father Joe Kim, our former vocation director, who is now working on a doctorate in theology in Rome. He quickly came to my assistance, knowing that the airline likely wouldn’t come through and asked around for a spare bishop’s cassock. We found some spare cassocks at the college where I was lodging, but none fit me. (For the record, Bishop McGrath offered me his. I declined.)
Again, Father Joe went above and beyond his theological study requirements and found a bishop’s cassock that fit me perfectly. He found it at the Filipino College. Thank you to the Filipino priests! There was plenty of excitement in my first twelve hours in Rome.
Despite the flurry of activity swirling around my attire and protocol, I knew Pope Francis really would not have cared about my attire, and so, I was intent on the content of our meeting with him. The bishops of the region sat for three hours with Pope Francis asking questions and making comments. Pope Francis listened and was patient, energetic and lively, thoughtful and wise, humble and personable. After a couple of hours, while we bishops were all showing signs of jet lag, the Holy Father looked fresh as a lily.
Among other topics, we spoke about the abuse crisis and how it has affected our ministry, about the need to evangelize our families – especially outreach to the young – about the challenges of a secularized culture, the challenges of mental health, and how polarized politics has affected the Church. Indeed, Pope Francis set a welcoming tone for the rest of the week – one of dialogue and learning one from another.
Dialogue was truly the tone for the rest of our meetings. In fact, it was one of the mandates the cardinals presented the new pope when Francis was elected: to create a culture in the Vatican that was more dialogical and responsive to the concerns of the bishops and the people they serve.
I leave Rome encouraged, refreshed, and spiritually strengthened. The Ad Limina visit was truly an experience of building unity in the Church.
I leave Rome with my lost luggage, which eventually did arrive. Now the question is: Will it make it back to San José?
Bishop Oscar Cantú